Following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony accusing United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault last Thursday, about 300 students gathered on the Main Green Saturday afternoon to rally in support of survivors of sexual assault.
Organized by two first-year students, the event created a space for University students and Providence community members to share their experiences of coping with sexual and gender-based violence.
Overall, the gathering aimed to empower all sexual assault survivors while criticizing Kavanaugh’s nomination, Justice Clarence Thomas’ “continued appointment” to the Supreme Court in light of sexual harassment accusations and President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, said Amelia Wyckoff ’22, one of the rally’s organizers.
“We’re protesting the elevation of rapists in our society, and we want to make it very clear to the campus, to the nation, that we do not tolerate sexual violence or sexual assault,” she added.
Alongside her classmate, Liam Bendicksen ’22, Wyckoff told The Herald that they were inspired to organize a protest after watching Blasey Ford testify in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.
During the rally, the crowd chanted “We hear you, we believe you,” as Wyckoff called out the names of Kavanaugh’s accusers: Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick.
Wyckoff then addressed the crowd about cultivating more compassionate responses to incidents of sexual assault. “We will reject the normalization and the acceptance of perpetrators of sexual misconduct” and elevate the voices of sexual assault survivors, she said.
Afterwards, two students who named themselves as survivors of sexual assault spoke about their experiences. Vanessa Garcia ’20.5, the first to speak, began by identifying herself as “a woman of color, disabled, mentally ill and the daughter of immigrants.” Over the summer, Garcia filed a police report stating that an Uber driver sexually assaulted her. Afterwards, Garcia said she struggled to combat entrenched and problematic societal attitudes around sexual assault, and referenced comments that blamed her for the assault following a Providence Journal article about the Uber driver facing criminal charges. The driver was charged with second degree sexual assault and released on bail. He is awaiting a pre-arraignment hearing, according to court records.
Despite the fact that the driver was arrested and charged with sexual assault, “it is somehow my burden to bear. … As a young woman of color, must (I) prevent men from assaulting me, instead of men learning to control themselves?” she asked.
Garcia also criticized The Herald for its approach in covering the incident. The Herald asked Garcia for an interview but did not explicitly inform her that The Herald would seek out the driver’s “side of the story,” Garcia said.
“This man who was deemed a felon by the Providence Police was going to be given an equal platform to speak? Even if he decided to apologize, he was going to be getting space and speaking power that he did not deserve,” she said, and added that she repeatedly expressed this concern to the paper.
“When you go to seek the other side’s opinion, it makes the marginalized (person) feel like you don’t actually care about centering their story,” Garcia told The Herald.
Garcia concluded her speech by telling the crowd that the culture of victim shaming needed to change. “I am tired of people telling me it is my fault,” she said.
Miriam Staffansdotter Langmoen ’17 addressed the crowd next to criticize the University’s response to her assault. Though the University eventually found her assailant responsible, Staffansdotter Langmoen said it took over a year for the University to suspend the student. “There is no glory in the fact that my assailant was finally found responsible and suspended. There is only sadness and anger and injustice,” she said. The University could not be reached for comment by press time.
Staffansdotter Langmoen said she decided to speak because “we too often expect women to stay silent and compliant and cater to the needs of men. We also expect survivors to prioritize the comfort and the reputation of people and institutions of power over our own need for justice and accountability.”
After Staffansdotter Langmoen’s speech, Morgan De Lancy ’22 spoke to the crowd about the national prevalence of sexual assault and the groups disproportionately affected by gender-based violence.
While praising the courage of Blasey Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh, De Lancy urged the crowd to remember that Blasey Ford’s credibility was inextricably connected to her racial identity and privilege.
Blasey Ford “is white, straight, cis-gendered, upper class and has multiple degrees, which enable her to explain in detail the psychology behind her trauma, … every attribute possible to be perceived credible,” De Lancy said.
“I say this not to discredit her (or deny) the incredible work she is doing or the extent of her pain,” she added. “I say this because I watched the way the elements of her background were presented as the reasons to believe her story and to support her.”
“What does this mean for the one-third of Native American women who will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime?” De Lancy asked. She added that sexual assault is more prevalent among individuals from lower-income households and people who are transgender.
As a first-year college student, De Lancy said she found the statistic that one-fifth of all women would be sexually assaulted in college to be terrifying. But, confronting locker room talk, combating gender stereotypes, believing survivors and normalizing conversations about consent were a few ways that society could effectively change the culture enabling sexual assault, De Lancy said.
In addition to featuring student and alumni speakers, the rally featured an “open-mic” segment in which participants could share their experiences of sexual violence with the crowd. Others spoke about their responsibility to be good allies to survivors.
Minae Choi ’19 ’19 said she attended the rally due to her personal experience with sexual assault and to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination. “I’m also a survivor, and I … felt that it was important for Brown students to assemble and show how they feel about Kavanaugh” and other people in power accused of sexual misconduct, such as Trump and Thomas, she said.
“What we wanted to achieve was a space for everybody to share their stories and to make the campus sure and the nation sure that we, as a community, believe survivors,” Wyckoff told The Herald. “People felt safe and loved and accepted, and this was not only a protest, but a rally to show our support.”
The Herald is currently in the process of reporting on a police report filed by Vanessa Garcia ’20.5 against an Uber driver for second-degree sexual assault. It is The Herald’s policy to reach out to those charged with serious crimes for comment on their charge when reporting a news story in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of events.
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed quotes to an incorrect student. Minae Choi ’19 spoke to The Herald, not Monita Minea ’19. The Herald regrets the error.